Design Process 102B- Prelim Costs

The prior three posts of the Design Process of an Architect Collector Series, covered Programming , Schematic Design, and Construction vs. Project Budgets– click the links if you missed them. We have one more cost related topic to discuss before addressing the next deeeeezine phase, Design Development.

When the Schematic Design drawings are formally approved, having a Preliminary Construction Cost Estimate (PCCE) prepared is highly recommended. This is done to gauge potential construction pricing for your project prior to committing to the remaining phases of work. While most architects can prepare a fairly accurate PCCE (even yours truly), it should be prepared by a local contractor experienced with your project type. Better yet, have your architect prepare a PCCE for comparison with the contractors.

What is a PCCE?
A PCCE is an estimate of the potential construction cost of your project, based upon Schematic Design Drawings and other related information. It is NOT a formal bid from the builder to construct the project. Go back and re-read the previous sentence, it’s that important. In order for a builder to accurately provide a formal bid, they require a fully-completed set of construction drawings. Drawings with this level of detail cost more, and take more time to develop, than schematic drawings. So, while a PCCE does not guarantee a construction price, it does provide a gauge for the potential pricing as it is prepared by capable builders familiar with current market costs. This is obviously valuable information in deciding whether or not to proceed with your project and/or whether significant adjustments to the design may need to be made. This step in the process gives you this insight earlier in the process and prior to having to commit to a full set of construction documents.

A positive outcome of this exercise is that many Owners end up finding the builder they wish to work with at this early point in the process. In our experience, this creates a more positive Owner-Builder working relationship and usually enables the builder to hold time slots in their schedule for your project. Builders brought on in this phase should also be able to reasonably explain any changes in the final bid from the estimate they are creating for the PCCE.

It’s important to note that while architects do their best to consider potential cost aspects and budget concerns of your project in the designs, as architects, we simply have no control over the cost of labor, materials or equipment, over the builder’s methods of determining bid prices, or over competitive bidding, market or negotiation conditions. As such, we simply cannot warrant to represent that final bids or negotiated prices will not vary from your budget or the PCCE. However, it’s an issue if the lowest bonafide construction bid or negotiated proposal has exceeded the PCCE by more than 10%- we’ll discuss this in a future post.

How Does the Process Work?
Your architect will turn the approved Schematic Design drawings into a PCCE set- it’s much like the good witch of the north sprinkling magic dust on the schematic drawings and waving a wand except different. In addition to the schematics themselves, the builder is given as much information as possible at this point in the project- site photos, notes about intended construction, allowances, schedule, etc. The PCCE set is forwarded to one or more builders. Using more than one builder helps you get some comfort that the budget numbers are within a reasonable variance.

When the PCCE is complete, you can then decide how to proceed. If the PCCE is acceptable, you can proceed to Design Development. If not, you may wish to go back and revise the scope of work to make adjustments to the plans. In the worst case, occasionally people decide at this point to abandon the project. If the project is abandoned, keep in mind it would be difficult to reach such a conclusion without having gone through Programming, Schematic Design, and addressing cost issues- your architect has assisted you in making an INFORMED decision.

So there you go. Couple this with the Construction vs. Project Budgets post and you have a decent primer on costs associated with your project. While no degrees will be issued, you should feel slightly educated about your project costs and how to discuss them with your architect, or just contact me and I’ll be your architect… do it… do it!

Design On,

** Keep in mind this is how my firm works. Other firms will differ. However, in general, most architects will adhere to a similar design process. If they don’t, well… they’re just wrong. I think I’m done with the babies, they’re starting to creep me out!

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